Mixed Opinions about Buhari’s New Package for Teachers

Mixed Opinions about Buhari’s New Package for Teachers

President Muhammadu Buhari

On Monday, 5 October 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria announced incentives for his country’s teachers, expected to be implemented nationwide. Buhari announced the mouth-watering package for teachers during the World Teachers’ Day celebration in Abuja. The package included a special salary structure for primary and secondary school teachers, a five-year increment of their service period from 35 to 40 years, special allowance for science teachers and those serving in rural areas; low-cost housing for rural-based teachers, automatic admission for their children into public schools, and provision of loans among other incentives.

The President said positive or negative influences of teachers on any child would have an effect on that child. Therefore, the Federal Government was going to ensure that Nigerian children had easy access to quality education. He said his administration had resolved that quality education of teachers in terms of engagement in continued professional development should be given priority. “The future of this country would be a function of the quality education delivered to our children today and this depends on the quality of our teachers and the quality of our teachers depends on the motivation and their motivation depends on how happy they are doing what they are doing.”

Buhari, who spoke through the Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, directed the Federal Ministry of Education to work with states and local governments, the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, the National Salaries, Incomes and Commission and other agencies to implement the package.

For many decades, there has been a consistent call for teachers to be more fairly treated in order for the teaching profession to take its pride of place as the mother of all professions and attract the best hands into the profession.

In some countries like Finland and Singapore which are known for their highly-rated education placements, the welfare of teachers is given top priority and so the country is able to attract their best and brightest.  This new package, Buhari believes, would set Nigeria on the path of development.

But state officials, teachers, administrators and others doubt how the largesse would be contained from state to state. They believe that while the plan is laudable, its implementation may not be so straight forward.

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State was one of the first public officers to comment on the incentives.  In a statement by the Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Paulinus Nsirim, Wike said the Federal Government must be willing to cede more financial control to states to be able to implement the incentives.

“The Federal Government has not been willing to come up with a new revenue formula. Instead, it is imposing a new financial burden on the states without consulting them. While it is good to give teachers a new salary scale, it is also important not to politicize such a sensitive issue,” he said.

In response to questions about how Lagos State would implement the directive, Commissioner for Education Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo said she thought the incentives were only for teachers in the employ of the Federal Government.  She said she was yet to see the policy document.

“He was talking about federal teachers not state teachers.  The state will work along to implement it. But all we are seeing is what we have read in the papers.  I have been asking for the policy document.  When I see it we will react to it; we will see what we can do,” she said on phone.

The Bauchi State Commissioner for Education, Dr. Aliyu Tilde, also told journalists he had no further information about the incentives.

 In a nutshell the President said the incentives had to do with  

  • Special salary scale for basic and secondary school teachers
  • Increase of mandatory service year from 35 years to 40 years
  • Construction of low-cost houses for teachers in the rural areas
  • Special allowance for teachers in the rural areas
  • Peculiar allowance for science teachers
  • Automatic admission into public schools for biological children of teachers. They are also to enjoy free tuition
  • Automatic employment for Education graduates
  • Provision of loan facilities for agriculture, housing, cars, motorcycles, among others

In a text sent to the press on that Monday, Tilde said: “I have no idea of how the government plans to achieve it in the states. There is no communication with states on the matter. You may wish to refer the question to the Federal Ministry Education.”

Niger State welcomed the package.  The Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Education, Abubakar Aliyu, expressed optimism that the incentives would improve the quality of learning and teaching among teachers and students.

“The Niger State Government is eager to get into it because it already has in place some initiatives for teachers and this would further boost it. We will key into it with a view to significantly improve the motivation of our teachers,” he said.

He however stated that the state would not implement until the council of establishment sits and the Head of Service in the state brings it back to the state after it would be sent to the House of Assembly for it to be passed into law.

“We are looking forward to the shortest possible time when some of these issues will be concluded so that we can adopt it in the state,” he added.

The chairman of Imo State Universal Basic Education Board (IMSUBEB), Mrs. Stella Ukagba said once the incentives were approved, her board would ensure that they are implemented at state and local government levels. Mrs. Ukagba, who spoke through her Public Relations Officer, Pep Anurunwa, said the board would effect changes in teachers’ salary scales to make sure that whatever is approved is paid to them once the state governor approves it.

The Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS) said the incentives would remain a mirage until the President signed them into law. Its Chairman Mr. Segun Adediran said even though the National Assembly had passed the elongation of years of service for teachers into law, President Buhari was yet to sign it. He said: “I want to appreciate the President for the good gesture. We have been on that struggle for quite a while now and the National Assembly has passed the bill on the elongation of years of service for teachers but the President has not signed it into law. Up till last week, when we marked 2020 World Teachers Day, the bill had not yet been signed. Few days after the President announced those incentives were announced, the Federal Ministry of Finance said it had not seen any circular on the special salary scale for basic and secondary school teachers. The promises are just a mirage if President Buhari did not sign them into law. It will amount to lip service despite many teachers rejoicing over the development. We charge the government to expedite action on the incentives. We want the President’s proclamation to be signed into law and be binding on the entire teacher’s unit of Nigeria.”

National President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, Chief Yomi Otubela, said the President must do more to extend the largesse to private school teachers. Speaking on that Monday during the NAPPS Day 2020, Otubela said: “While we commend the Federal Government for the recent approval of a special salary scale and new retirement age for teachers, we also urge the Federal Government to establish a special grant/ palliative fund for teachers in private schools. We believe this gesture will not only encourage public and private school teachers to deliver better services but will also make government fully committed to supporting the educational system in all ramifications. 

A retired teacher in Niger State, Alhassan Bako, said the incentives were timely, coming when the motivation of teachers had become very low. “Teachers in public schools really need this encouragement. These incentives are great and will greatly inspire and motivate teachers. I wish this came when I was in service but I hope that the state government will implement this when it finally comes to bear,” he said.

A public school teacher in Bauchi State who spoke in confidence told a correspondent that the special package would make teachers more productive and committed. However, he expressed doubt over its actualization at the state level, saying many states were yet to pay minimum wage.

“Teachers are the worst paid, so the incentives are coming at the right time. Until now there is no salary structure for teachers unlike the lecturers and the military but how this will be implemented is what we are still worried about,” he said.

Another public school teacher said there was no provision for the incentives in the 2021 budget announced by the President so he doubted it would be implemented. The teacher said: “The whole announcement looks like a mirage as  the government didn’t plan for this. I have seen a report by the Ministry of Finance saying funding the new salary package might be tough. Also, the recently presented 2021 budget by the President isn’t reflecting this. Where do we stand? By now, the government should act more than it talks; let them limit what they promise. If the package comes miraculously, this will motivate and encourage teachers.”

A senior teacher at the Federal Government College, Owerri, Mrs. Bridget Onyewuchi, said the incentives would work as high level of encouragement to teachers. “I think this is going to be a reality, it will make everybody to have a dream and it will also encourage some teachers that have been aiming to change into business because of low salaries to stay back in the teaching profession thereby giving in their best.” She said the problem of government’s policies had always been implementation. “Most times when there are policies and enactments we always experience hiccups. At state and local government, they find it difficult to adhere to the rules. At times, it is only those attached to the Federal areas that may feel the impact or touch the said incentives,” she said, calling for a law to ensure that the incentives got to the grassroots.

The Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono said the President’s announcement on some of the incentives had been cooking for some time now.  He said the finer details would be worked out in collaboration with state and local government authorities and announced by the end of the year. Regarding the extension of years of service, he said: “The issue of the length of service and the 65 years has been ongoing for a long time. In fact the 8th National Assembly passed the bill and sent it to Mr. President to sign early last year. We were the ones that said they should hold on to it so that we can do a comprehensive exercise and the reason why we told Mr. President not to sign yet is the same reason you are asking now. We wanted to be sure of what will be the financial implication. We wanted to know what is going to be the impact of the policy on the career prospect of servicing officers, and what was going to be the cost benefits analysis and how it was going to improve teaching and learning because there are those who argued that rather than retain people longer in service why don’t you create opportunities for new people to be employed.  So we had to carry out all those studies before coming up with these recommendations. Between now and December we will return the bill that the National Assembly passed. We have already written to the Attorney-General of the Federation so that he returns it, so they (lawmakers) can take another look at it – more like re-endorsement since they have passed it already – so we can get Mr. President to sign that bill on the elongation of service into law between now and December and it can take effect from January next year.”

Regarding salaries, Echono said it may take about two years before implementation as the Salaries and Wages Commission has to work on the modalities. “For salaries we are liaising with Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission. We had earlier worked out the enhanced salary scale before, but that was done even before the minimum wage approval. So we quickly adjusted it and we are transmitting it to the Commission that is responsible for fixing salaries for all categories of workers. They will take it through their own internal process and consult with state governments on all the issues and policy areas. Before we agreed on it, it had to be budgeted for. So it cannot come into effect until January of 2022 because the budget for 2021 has already been prepared, which means we have a full year plus to do all the consultations and get the necessary approvals before the new salary will come up in January 2022.”

Echono also explained that not all the reforms are for everyone, saying: “The general incentives are for everybody – like if you are a teacher in a rural area you will be benefitting from the housing scheme. The issue of extended tenure is for everybody. There are some reforms that are targeted at the best brains because we now want the best brains to go into teaching. It is not for everybody. We want to encourage only those ones and in the specialization that we need them. Those ones are not for everybody but the other general incentives like insurance and others are for everybody.”

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